Helen E. Hokinson Cartoons for The New Yorker
Scope and Contents
The drawings primarily feature situations in which Hokinson’s iconic matrons interact with their friends, cultural colleagues, children, pets, sales clerks, and their stalwart household staff members (two examples in Series VII: in drawing 78, a matron stepping off a train tells her driver, "I have two sheep in the baggage car, Gordon, they're for the lawn." and in drawing 76, a matron alone with her housekeeper says, "Alice, go look at my engagement pad and tell me what I'm doing."). The city and suburban scenarios are those Hokinson knew well: department stores, women’s clubs, box offices, amateur theater stages, pet shows, cocktail parties, and anywhere that American tourists would be seen abroad. Much of her humor is visual and not always obvious from a caption (Series VII, drawing 10, "Where are the guns, please?" features a woman and small boy in the stuffed animal section of a toy store; Series VI, drawing 63, "Do you all give up?" depicts a game of charades in which the matron is on the floor posed as a sphinx) and many of the references, such as those to cosmetics magnate Richard Hudnut, theater star Maurice Evans, United States Vice President Henry A. Wallace, and to Briarcliff Junior College, are no longer relatable in the twenty-first century. However, the gentle humor that Hokinson applied to her ladies and their circumstances both mirrors and transcends its time, and some of the cartoons—in particular the matron whispering to a Paris bookstall attendant in French about James Joyce’s banned Ulysses (Series VII, drawing 8, published May 22, 1930) or walking out on a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (remarking “Mr. Damrosch will hear of this.” in Series VII, drawing 26), or the two matrons in an art gallery quizzically circling Constantin Brancusi's Bird in Space (Series VII, drawing 173, published February 6, 1926) or pausing to query a Southwest pueblo resident about the legendary Mabel Dodge Luhan (Series IV, drawing 12, published July 9, 1938)—present cultural markers still of interest to readers many decades afterward.
Drawings that carry on their versos the magazine’s copyright stamp, serial numbers in blue or black crayon, and directions to the printer regarding image size and placement, indicate that they had been published. Those without may be rejected ideas or weren’t submitted for consideration, and in six cases the drawings are accompanied by notes (usually rejection notes) from James M. Geraghty (1905-1983), art editor at The New Yorker from 1939 to 1973; one mentions Harold Ross (1892-1951), the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief. However, although unmarked, some of the drawings may have appeared in the magazine’s category of "covering art"—groups or sequences of images which appeared on a page or two, usually with a one- or two-word caption—or as vignettes in the “Goings On” or “Talk of the Town” sections of the magazine. In two cases the collection holds drawings that are in both cartoon and cover formats: the three matrons touring Mexico in Series VI, drawing 46, appear in a cover design in Series VII, drawing 68, and the tennis club group in Series VII, drawing 104, is also in a cover sketch in Series VII, drawing 18.
In addition to the cartoons there are three watercolor views of rural France in Series III (drawings 39-41) taken when Hokinson visited there in the late 1920s, and four unidentified watercolor views in Series VII (drawings 73, 79, 129, and 143) as well as two printed pieces: a progressive proof of a Hokinson cover on the June 22, 1946, issue (Series VII, number 17) and in the same series, number 69 is a detached Hokinson cover from January 5, 1946. Also present is a 1931 cartoon by Perry Barlow (1892-1977), her colleague at The New Yorker (Series VI, drawing 78).
The drawings in this collection were among a larger group left as a bequest by Helen Hokinson to her friend Helen Mobert (1896-1979). Before they were transferred to Mobert, James Reid Parker (1909-1984), Hokinson’s executor and primary caption writer, added captions on the drawings which had none. In the subsequent thirty years, Mobert sold most of the drawings she had inherited, and at her death the residue passed to Parker. Mobert had written new captions on many of the drawings; Parker erased those captions and rewrote the originals, either from memory when the caption was his own or from published sources when the drawing was executed before he began collaborating with Hokinson. The captions in the box and folder list below were transcribed as they appear on the drawings. Those with quotation marks indicate that a character in the cartoon is speaking. Those without quotes are simply titles applied by Hokinson or Parker, and [descriptions in brackets] are for drawings with no caption or title present.
- 1926 - 1949
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
Immediate Source of Acquisition
25.42 Linear Feet (15 boxes)
Helen E. Hokinson (1893-1949)
Helen Hokinson became one of the best-known of The New Yorker cartoonists, in company with Charles Addams, Peter Arno, Whitney Darrow Jr, George Price, and James Thurber. Working from her apartment in New York's Gramercy Park neighborhood or her cottage in Silvermine, Connecticut, she created her own genre of civic-minded “Hokinson women,” described by Richard Merkin in a short profile of the artist published in The New Yorker in 1994: “Her dowagers and clubwomen were generally edging up on their fifties, were overweight (but intent on doing something about it), and were addicted to chapeaus that somehow always looked both chic and wrong. They were women of cheerful mien, earnest in their cultural and horticultural pursuits, and inclined toward the ingenuous. It was easy to laugh at them, but something about them—perhaps their energy, perhaps their tiny feet—made you laugh gently and with affection.” Hokinson set her subjects in women’s club meetings, community theatricals, country fairs, and flower and pet shows as well as at the opera, art museums, and, naturally, a wide variety of retail shops. Many of her early cartoons were published without captions, but eventually she, and most of the magazine’s other cartoonists, began to use captions assigned by editors or staff writers, some of whom would first suggest captions for which Hokinson would then fashion an image.
In 1931 James Reid Parker, who wrote humorous pieces and light sketches for The New Yorker, met Helen Hokinson and the two became a professional team with Parker supplying captions for Hokinson’s drawings. They met once a week, on Fridays, to exchange and develop ideas, and communicated daily by postcard if either was traveling. Their arrangement continued until Hokinson’s death in an airplane crash on November 1, 1949; Parker served as the executor of her estate.
The editors wrote an appreciative farewell to Helen Hokinson in their November 12, 1949, issue: “Miss Hokinson’s first drawing appeared in The New Yorker on July 4, 1925. The magazine was less than five months old then, and it was singularly fortunate in finding, at its difficult beginning, an artist of such rare and gentle distinction. In the years since then, her pictures have appeared in these pages almost every week, and the ladies she drew have become perhaps the most widely known and certainly the most affectionately cherished of any characters we have introduced to our readers. If satire is defined as an exposure of anyone’s weakness, she was not a satirist at all, or even a humorist, if there is any implication of harshness in that. Her work was the product of loving observation and a boundless delight in all absurdity, none more than that she found in herself, and the pleasure she gave other people was really a reflection of her own.”
Helen Hokinson’s cartoons were published in three collections during her lifetime, So You're Going to Buy a Book! (Minton, Balch & Co., 1931), My Best Girls (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1941), and When Were You Built? (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1948), and three after her death: The Ladies, God Bless 'em (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1950), There are Ladies Present (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1952), and The Hokinson Festival (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. 1956).
Former call number: Za MS +1
- American wit and humor, Pictorial
- Artists -- United States
- Artists -- United States -- 20th Century
- Barlow, Perry, 1892-1977
- Cartoonists -- United States
- Cartoonists -- United States -- 20th Century
- Cartoons (humorous images) -- United States -- 20th Century
- Drawings (visual works) -- United States -- 20th Century
- Geraghty, James M., 1905-1983
- Hokinson, Helen E. (Helen Elna), 1893-1949
- Illustrations (layout features) -- United States -- 20th Century
- New Yorker (New York, N.Y. : 1925)
- Parker, James Reid, 1909-1984
- Watercolors (paintings) -- United States -- 19th century
- Guide to the Helen E. Hokinson Cartoons for The New Yorker
- by Sandra Markham
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
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